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Gualtieri. Dialogue around poetry and prophecy

Mariangela’s verse

  Il verso di Mariangela  DCM-009
01 October 2022

What does not change
I sing
the cloud the top the stem
the offering the gift the ruin

These are verses by Mariangela Gualtieri from the collection Bestia di gioia [Beast of Joy] (Einaudi, 2010) that well represent a poetics in deep harmony with being and non-being, with things, nature, animals. Verses also pacified with what for others is an inspiration of pain and fear: the end, death, and the abysses of sensitivity. Verses that seek (and find) a point of stability in being in the world, a root that digs deep to reach the sky. Verses grateful to life. I read in the same collection:

At the centre of me
a crouching beast wakes up
and breathes the silence that in the day
has been missing. It breathes. In its own way

It is this capacity to feel part of a mysterious but not terrifying whole, this affectionate joy that perhaps opens the hidden antennas of an inevitably prophetic artistic capacity. If I think of today’s poets, I cannot see who better than Mariangela Gualtieri to embody the figure of the good prophet, full of love for creation, for its evil and its good, which many were able to recognise when reading one of her poems, Bello mondo [Beautiful World], from the collection Le giovani parole [Young Words] (Einaudi, 2015), performed this winter by Jovanotti on the Sanremo festival stage:

Give thanks I wish
Because on this earth there is music
the right hand and the left hand
And their intimate accord
For those who are indifferent to fame
For dogs, for cats
Fraternal beings full of mystery

“Franciscan” poetry, which the author herself recognizes as such, was already written by the authors of her heart, but - I use one of her words – “inexhaustible”, when she now tells me: “I have always felt naturally part of a vast whole and, from my earthly point of view, it seems to me, endowed with great astounding beauty. This beauty continues to reveal itself to my eyes and fascinates me; I am closer to Francis of Assisi’s enthusiasm or G.M. Hopkins than to Leopardi’s malign stepmother nature. I think it is part of my being-made-that-way. The fright, or the shadow side, lies in what distances me from this consonance, from this feeling of being in harmony with the rest, and therefore in the first place among the obstacles is my restless mind, when it is working in a nagging way, or also the incessant running to which we are all forced, the acting always in view of a result, the lack of silence”.

Do you ever not want to give thanks (in the face of the horrors of the world and of man, for example)? “You ask me about pain and its meaning and this is really a chapter that remains unexplained for me, especially when those who suffer are the most fragile, the weakest, children, the old, animals. I can answer no, it has never yet occurred to me that I do not wish to give thanks and I realise how lucky I am to be able to make such a statement. I know that there are lives that are unbearable, very hard in every moment, and this pains me out of a natural feeling of compassion. There is an imperfection in the world that is hard to accept, but there is undoubtedly an everyday splendour that often leaves me stunned, deeply grateful. Think of Etty Hillesum in the concentration camp when she thinks that life is beautiful. It is a way of feeling that seems to me to belong to a destiny, don’t you think?”

I try to answer your question. That at this time I feel overwhelmed by violence and pain, of others, not mine. That I see no light in the future and I am afraid. However, I add, in your poetry I find peace, I find another possibility of things. In Quando non morivo [When I Did Not Die] (Einaudi, 2019) I read:

We are this moving
changing place and name.
We are a being here, perpetually navigating
of substances from name to name. We are

Here, in my opinion, being rooted in change is the great strength of these verses, which do not rely on God (“I do not know how to invoke this God of yours / nor how to blaspheme him. Too hard for me”) but remain in suspended expectation of something, someone, who has given form to the world: “Who thought of the flowers, / before, before the flowers” (Senza polvere senza peso, [Without Dust Without Weight] Einaudi 2006). Perhaps, I say to myself, art is inevitably prophetic, visionary, and I ask; can there be non-prophetic poets? The answer is wise, “We should be clear about what contemporary art is, a field that is terribly polluted by the market and in which it is not easy to find your way around. However, I believe that art is prophetic whenever it bridges the gap between the unspeakable and the world, between experience and the world outside experience. Whenever, through a finite sign, art puts us in contact with the unlimited”.

“It is earth the substance of my saying,” you claim in a poem in that collection. However, an earth sinks into the afterlife that puts you in contact with the dead. After all, it is a heavenly land, isn’t it? “As Anna Maria Ortese writes, the earth is a celestial body: we inhabit it and are made of it. For the American Indians, we are earth that speaks, earth that walks. Adam’s very name in the Bible comes from the earth, the Adamà.  More than seeing beyond, I think it is crucial to see the now, and perhaps that is what poetry does. William Blake wrote that ‘If the doors of perception were purified, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite’. The earth, the humus from which the word humility is derived, seems miraculous to me, especially since I live in the countryside. The secret of the seed becomes the verdure of the meadow, writes Rumi. Everything seems to hold a secret, everything seems so well made and I cannot find the boundary between matter and spirit, between flesh and spirit, between earthly and heavenly. The dead are present in me, and always have been. As a child I thought they occupied empty rooms. I remember my fear of disturbing them; I would sing at the top of my voice as I climbed the stairs to my room, to give the ‘dead’ time to disappear. Thinking back on it now, they were a lot like Pascoli’s dead, who were silent, loving, concerned for us; they were certainly not frightening specters but rather presences from beyond the world, mysterious, knowledgeable, rescuing. I had the good fortune to be present for the death of my father and then my mother and to be able to care for their “dear forms”. The peace full of revelation of those moments seems to me their last delivery, their last lesson”.

What about dreams? Do they play any role in your vision? “Dreams no, they are not that important for my writing, at least consciously. However, sometimes I wake up at night and write down a line that appears in my sleep, or that someone says in my dream. I always have my notebook with me; I wake up and write it down. I remember a ‘Thank you for this weeping without which I would be a dry, motionless thing’ said by me to my father who came to visit me from the dead...these are words that do not sound like mine”.

Can you give me your personal definition of prophecy? “I think it is a double definition; on the one hand, prophecy is to keep alive what transcends us, as I just said, to make the invisible perceivable. On the other hand, especially in poetry, prophecy is the voice that despite having been spoken centuries and centuries ago, still knows how to centre our feeling, still illuminates it. Thus, touch with words a depth that time has not altered. If someone reading our verses a thousand years from now - assuming the species can make it - will feel what we feel today, it will be because those words will have crossed time without being worn out, without fading, and this light seems to me to be prophecy”.

Do you have the feeling, when you write, of being stirred by a mysterious force inside or outside of you? “There is the impression at a certain point of being pregnant, of having to spill the beans, of giving birth to something in me that has piled up and demands an urgent, violent exit. Then, in the moment of poetic precipitation, the most vivid impression is that the words come from outside. At that moment, everything seems extremely simple, almost obvious, almost physiological, there is nothing mysterious, not least because the body participates fully in what is happening. The mystery only emerges in my mind later; when I reread those words, they sometimes seem so much more perceptive and complex than I actually feel. In essence, it really seems to me, as Rimbaud says, that ‘I am another’, that the writer is not the I that I know”.

For what exactly is speech “inadequate”? “Outside of poetry or philosophy, outside of the transmission of knowledge, it seems to me that speech is almost always inadequate, disappointing. At least outside of verse, my words usually disappoint me. Unfortunately we do not yet know how to speak to each other in verse...it could be one of the lofty goals to which we are called, who knows”.

By Sandra Petrignani
Writer and cultural journalist